(But) or and…

Its usual to hear the word ‘but’ used to join together two sentences or two thoughts; “It was good but…” “I’m really struggling but I should look at the positives.”

It’s used to connect contrasting ideas and the the intention is often to recognise both positive and negative aspects, to be aware of different perspectives. However, what can happen is the ‘but’ can serve to invalidate the first response. The implication is that the first thought or feeling was either too much or not enough and it needs balancing out. Our experience is reduced and made ok or not ok (I didn’t like it but.., I did like it but…) Like I said, the intention is often good and it shows we’re seeing both sides of the coin but we need to not lose the potency of either experience. Notice in my last sentence, I have made a statement and then countered it; the second statement could invalidate the wholeness of the first.

I wonder if I’d used the word and instead, it would have a different feel and meaning, “the intention is often good and it shows we’re seeing both sides of the coin and we need to not lose the potency of either experience.” Another example more specific to current difficulties due to COVID, “I’m really struggling with this and I have experienced some benefits.” “

“It was really good and it was challenging”.

Rather than replace one with the other, which ‘but’ can suggest, it holds both experiences with equal weight. It feels that both are acceptable and held within their own entirety. The result is a freedom to feel and express alternative experiences without having to choose one to preside over the other. Where the but can limit, and can expand.

A small word that can make a big difference to the validation of the lived experience of another and to ourselves. I’ve noticed the permission it gives and the value it places on what someone feels or thinks. It moves away from comparison and into companionship; our experiences can be side by side yet different, not one or the other.

Try reframing your own internal dialogue with and. Next time you think “this is really, really hard BUT it’s teaching me something” (excusing the really really hard bit) change it to “this is really, really hard AND it’s teaching me something” (containing, not minimising the really really hard bit).

Then try it with others and notice what happens. I’ve noticed people relax, even smile because they feel seen and heard and validated and ok with their responses because they’re not having to hide them, down play them or big them up. They can respond authentically and feel like their whole person is held without having to shut off aspects that ‘aren’t acceptable’.

I’d love to hear what you notice about using ‘and’. A small and space giving word.

Published by Leanne Riley

I am a Contractual Trainee Transactional Analysis Psychotherapist. I like to write about emotional well-being, often including art and creativity in my work.

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